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Beach Haven Memories With My Twin Brother

By GLORIA C. ENDRES | May 24, 2017
Courtesy of: Gloria C. Endres The author and her twin brother sport matching rompers on the Beach Haven beach in a July 3, 1946 photo.

My twin brother, Daniel Joseph Cipollini, and I were born in Philadelphia at the Methodist Hospital on Oct. 22, 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor. That was when my name was Gloria Virginia Cipollini. Nick and Mary Cipollini were our parents. We were first introduced to Long Beach Island and especially Beach Haven the summer after we were born. We took some of our first steps on the original Beach Haven boardwalk, later blown away in a hurricane with no name.

Danny and I were brought to the Island by our parents for most of the summers of our youth up until high school, when my brother decided that the Island was too boring for his adolescent tastes. Years before, our maternal grandmother had bought a lot in Beach Haven, so it was on our list of stops every time we went. All we heard was that there was some kind of local ordinance that stopped her from building. Too small, they said.

Anyway, we were just preschool age when we noticed that the boardwalk was no longer there, and all we could see were countless wooden splinters in the sand that pricked and pinched our feet. 

We could scarcely fathom the power of Mother Nature to destroy manmade structures, let alone that there were disasters with more human causes happening simultaneously. While we were observing the hurricane’s havoc on the Island and picking splinters out of our feet, World War II was raging overseas. Our dad was spared the draft for a few reasons. He had already served in the Pennsylvania National Guard when he was 18, plus he was 41 and married with children when the war started. But we did learn that Uncle Danny, our dad’s youngest brother, was overseas driving a tank in Patton’s army. Other cousins also served in the Army and Navy, but all we knew was that sometimes Mommy had to darken the windows at home. It did not affect our summer plans.

Everyone takes plastic for granted today, but in our early childhood there was no such thing. Due to the war effort, materials like metal and rubber were in short supply for making toys. Most of our toys were made of wood or cloth or cardboard. Instead of colorful, plastic beach buckets, we filled plain wooden buckets with sand, using wooden shovels. As the photo that accompanies this piece shows, we wore a kind of matching playsuit instead of fancy bathing suits. There were no plastic and aluminum beach chairs, either, and few umbrellas or beach toys. My grandfather did own a wooden and canvas beach chair, but only he used it.

We made our own toys from whatever scraps we could find and played with what was available including sand, seashells and driftwood. At one point we did have paper kites to fly on the beach. We did not feel deprived, of course, because we came from a loving family and did not miss toys and gadgets that had not yet been invented. We were content to mold sand into castles, decorate them with seashells and dig deep to fill our buckets. We had fun.

Mom was afraid of water since she once almost drowned as a teenager, so she watched anxiously as we played in the surf. I recall being afraid of the waves at first, but soon Danny and I were fearless as we leaped headfirst into the water and let the waves carry us back and forth. I would curl up into a ball and just let the current deliver me back to the dry sand. I never did learn to swim, but I had trust in the incoming waves to deliver me safely back to shore, where I saw my mother’s wide eyes riveted on our every action. My brother, meanwhile, was a natural swimmer.

Many times we went to the Island without Daddy, who did not always get a convenient vacation in the summer from his tool-making job. So Mommy kept us in the same bed with her at Mrs. Butterworth’s rooming house, which did not have much in the way of bathing facilities, and certainly no access to food. For that we went about the neighborhood. We ate breakfast at the counter in Kapler’s Pharmacy. I can still remember my brother and me sitting on stools and eating cold cereal.

We had only each other for playmates most of the time. And the beach was a great playground. In spite of the splinters that lasted several years, the sand was smooth and soft. Beachcombing was fun, as was getting partly buried in sand. And on rainy days or after dark, we had our coloring books and crayons to occupy us. Or a game of wooden checkers. Of course there were no televisions in the mid-1940s. We always had to rely on ourselves and our imaginations for amusement. 

On the occasions when our grandparents visited the Island with us, my brother and I enjoyed playing “horsey” on Grandpop’s back as he lay on his beach blanket. We could both fit on his back at the same time. My grandmother worked in a shoe factory and rarely had time off to travel. But I can vividly recall that no matter where we ate, all she wanted to order was her “coconut cream pie.”

She rarely ate other people’s cooking. However, there was an Italian lady who had a small restaurant on Bay Avenue. Her name was Maria, and she made delicious macaroni and meatballs with tomato gravy. (Oh, I must mention that in our part of South Philly, it is never called “sauce,”  but always “gravy”). Anyway, my Italian grandmother would eat Maria’s food because it was homemade, authentic Italian cuisine. So that was where we ate most of the time.

Another vivid memory of our youth was of the many insect bites we endured. The Island had lots of undeveloped land at that time, so there were acres of dunes loaded with grass and weeds, which attracted all kinds of bugs. Flies and mosquitoes had fine dining on our young flesh. Good thing there was Calamine lotion back then, which Mommy liberally applied to our itchy, scratchy arms and legs. 

Mommy also made sure we got to church on Sunday even if church was a movie theater lent to St. Francis Parish for Sunday Mass. The Colonial Theater no longer exists, but that was our part-time church. Today in its place on the northwest corner of Bay Avenue and Centre Street is a store that sells artifacts. Many changes.

Sadly, my brother, Daniel, died May 8, 2004 at the age of 63. His progeny includes three children (Debbie, Nancy and Joe) and five grandchildren (Danielle, Mark, Ava, Alex and Lydia), all cousins to my one daughter, Claire. None of them ever had the experience of growing up with a sibling with the same birthday, starting school at the same time, graduating high school on the same day or sharing all the flickering memories of a special Island.

Gloria C. Endres lives in Philadelphia and is a lifelong visitor to Long Beach Island.

 

 

 

 

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